FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – How does a Jesus-loving, non-swearing, 220-pound white guy end up infiltrating a violent black drug gang on Fort Worth’s east side?
Tegan Broadwater, a former undercover officer with the Fort Worth Police Department, says his faith – and support from his wife — helped him immensely.
Broadwater seems so contrary to what you’d expect of a drug dealer to act and sound like. And that’s what makes what he was able to do even more astounding.
By the time “Operation Fishbowl” was over, 41 criminals were behind bars, and $1 million in drugs were confiscated, along with guns and cash.
His goal: clean up a Fort Worth neighborhood that had been scarred by drug trafficking and other criminal enterprises, leaving law-abiding residents afraid to come out of their homes.
“You had people who lived there and grew up … for 50 years who were basically held captive,” Broadwater said. “It became an obvious goal of mine … I think I was the only one who even thought it was possible.”
Broadwater was a narcotics officer back then. The neighborhood, then as now, is known as the “Fishbowl” because of its unique geography of having just one street coming in, and one street going out.
Dealers would post lookouts at each entry so there was almost no hope of catching drug dealers in the act.
Because of the small size of the neighborhood, everyone living there would instantly know if someone coming in didn’t belong.
And Broadwater definitely didn’t fit in.
By the time “Operation Fishbowl” began, Broadwater had been working narcotics for a while. He had an informant who could introduce him into the neighborhood.
“I fit in by standing out a little bit,” Broadwater recalled, adding that he played a criminal who had just lost his drug supplier in an FBI bust.
Broadwater said he maintained his cool, even as pretended to be something he definitely was not – a drug trafficker with a street name of “Tee.”
But there was one thing he swore never to do, and that was to use the foul language so prevalent in the criminal world.
At first, Broadwater was pretty much on his own. No wires, no teams of backup ready to rush in. This upped the level of risk, but Broadwater says it wouldn’t have worked any other way.
“If I get a call at 2 a.m., and someone is talking about having a shipment come in, and do we want to talk about business, I don’t have time … to call my eight-man team…wait for everyone to show up and get wired,” Broadwater said.
“That’s not realistic. These people expect you to be there,” he said.
After some initial successes, he started to get introduced to dealers higher up in the drug world. He reached a point where he needed help.
That’s when the FBI stepped in.
But as far as boots on the ground, Broadwater was still the only undercover officer in the neighborhood.
And that made things tough.
Broadwater said he struggled playing a drug dealer at work, and a family man at home.
“It became confusing,” he said. “I can’t treat my family the same way, because I’m this other character…”
He turned to his wife, Holli, for support, while at the same time keeping many of the details of his undercover work to himself so she would not worry.
When Holli wasn’t around, he turned to something else, his faith.
“It really did save me. It put a lot of instantaneous relief and calm over me, allowed me to go in and really function with confidence, which is really important in these instances,” he said.
There were close calls, one that is even funny, but only in retrospect.
It came when Broadwater was making a deal with a new contact in a tiny shotgun house. Guns and drugs were on the table and the reality show COPS was on the television.
“I perk up and hear a familiar voice and recognize that it is my own voice on an episode of COPS on the television … I immediately panicked,” he said.
Trying to maintain his cool, Broadwater said he parked himself in front of the TV and talked over it until the segment was over.
The close call made his realize just how much danger he had placed himself in.
By the end, both Broadwater and his wife were ready for the operation to come to a close. Law enforcement swooped in, and suspects began to realize “Tee” was not all that he appeared to be.
Broadwater ended up getting out of the police business and opened his own security firm. But Broadwater took notes throughout his undercover experience and thought it might make an interesting book.
“Life in the Fishbowl” is out now, and proceeds are going to a cause close to Broadwater’s heart. It’s called H.O.P.E. Farm, a charity in Fort Worth that helps boys whose fathers who have been murdered or are imprisoned.
Broadwater hopes it will have a lasting impact on a neighborhood where he hopes he helped start a change.
“I would love to see some of these kids that get mentored at a young age, that grow up into their teens, actually get educated to the extent that they come back and mentor some of these other children.”
If that happens, Broadwater said, the risks were worth it.
(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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